Saturday, November 19, 2005

On posing and Germans and Giants... again

One of the great things about going to Convention is the opportunity to meet breeders from other parts of the country and the world. Talking with Judy Le Marchant from England was informative and a blast! Judy judges rare breeds over there, and is a very smart cookie. One thing that really gets her going is the American way of posing rabbits. ARBA sates clearly how commercial breeds of rabbits should be posed, yet time after time I see judges smashing the poor things together to get that round topline. In spite of the fact that most, if not all, of the standards for these breeds specifically state there should be a *slight* rise from shoulder to hip, the judges want to see a hemisphere with ears. In order to get that, you need a rabbit with a longer back, because you're bending to get that profile, not a shorter back like the standards specify.

What's this got to do with Germans and Giants? I cannot tell you how many times I have heard that while the breeds may be similar, " A good Giant does not make a good German, and a good German does not make a good Giant." Why? Because supposedly the body type is so different. Poppycock!

First allow me to quote a small part of the Standard of Perfection for Giant Angoras:

Body--Points 10: The body is to be of commercial type, with good width and depth, tapering slightly from hindquarters to the shoulders. It is to be well balanced throughout. The flesh is to be firm and smooth, over a well nourished body.

Faults-- Rounded, cobby body.
Disqualification from competition-- Short coupled body

Now how does this differ from the IAGARB standard? The general statement is as follows:

You should aim for a medium-sized rabbit of commercial type, with good length/depth/width ratio, firm flesh and noticeable furnishings on head, ears and feet.

A more detailed explanation follows:

The body is of medium length, cylindrical, of good depth and width for balance.

Aahh... *cylindrical*. How do you judge this? You stretch the rabbit out. I know this because I witnessed a German judging demonstration.

Ever see a Himilayan in a normal pose? They don't look cylindrical at all until you stretch them. Neither does a German. Stretch a Giant out like that, they look cylindrical, too.

As I stated on the germanangora list, the difference between the breeds is not in the animals, it is in the standards for registration, and the culture of the two groups. German breeders breed primarily for wool production. They have very strict wool requirements for registration. Giant breeders breed for wool, too, since more wool means better showing, but they have very strict weight requirements to meet. Germans don't. Everything else is pretty much the same.

Then there is the fact that, as originally presented, the animals were pure Germans. The animals that were eventually accepted by ARBA were not, they were larger German Hybrids, to distinguish them more from the English Angora. Then a funny thing happened. While we here in America were breeding more German into the Giant lines to get better wool, the Berlin Wall fell in Europe and suddenly the East German rabbit breeders could now fully participate with the West German breeders. And guess what the East German breeders contributed to the German Angora - BIG, BEEFY RABBITS. Yes, the East Germans liked their angoras BIG - and bigger rabbits produced more wool.

Now that the big, beefy, recent imports are being shown as and being bred into the Giants, I challenge anyone to come to the NARBC Angora Nationals in Frankfurt, NY this Spring and tell me which animals are Germans and which are Giants.

You say potato, I say potato... ;)

Thanks to Judy Le Marchant for bringing the influence of the East German angora breeders to my attention.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

The long-awaited rufus!

First allow me to start with a brag - Vinnie, my choc torte French buck I am using to improve color, body type, and wool in my Otters is now "Grand Champion" Fancy That's Vincent. Woo Hooo!!!!

I'm going to first fill in some background on myself and my Otter program. I first joined ARBA (American Rabbit Breeders Association) back in 1972, when I was 11. I joined as an adult because I wanted to compete with adults and I wanted to be able to vote in elections and other matters. At that time, I raised Roan Abyssinian cavies and was quite successful at it. My parents bred prize-winning Guppies (yes, people breed and show all sorts of fish just like we do rabbits, dogs, horses, and such), my Dad in fact founded the Three Rivers Guppy Assn. So I was exposed to breeding startegies for color, shape of fins, and body type at an early age. My mother developed Asthma and the cavies had to go, however I was able to buy a registered Doberman instead. I was entralled with the Tan pattern in Dobermans. Not much information was available on genetics, though. Eventually we moved out to the country so I could have horses, too. Many of my friends bred rabbits, especially New Zealands, so I kept in touch with those people and sort of bred rabbits vicariously through my friends, LOL! One of my friends liked to use White NZ's to improve the body type in her Reds, and it was always amazing to see what color babies would come out of such crosses. I've also always had a fascination with the color red, and even studied the genetics of red in cat color. Did you know "solid" Orange (which actually has stripes since it is a tabby color) is only found on males, females are always Calicos (or Tortoise Shell, if you're in Europe). However, the very similar solid Red (also a tabby color) is found in both sexes. Just a bit of trivia I remember from way back then. I'm sure there's a lot more to it... I continued studying color in horses for many years into my adulthood.

In recent years, I had rabbits as pets, but didn't get into breeding them until I got interested in Angoras. In college, I had worked at the campus' outdoor museum, and had watched ladies demonstrate the washing, carding, and spinning of wool. I always wanted to learn to do that. Now with a partner who is animal-friendly, I can indulge in my interests that have laid dormant for so long.

The Otter Angora program came about mostly from from an act that was meant to be a joke. I had gotten Bob a pair of Tans because he loved the color and the way the breed looked. He found out, however, that he did not like the temperament, especially that of the doe. One day as he was fussing over my black German hybrid doe, Angel (his baby), I remarked that it really was too bad we couldn't produce the Tan color in an angora. Angel wound up being plopped in with Ember, the Tan buck, and the two chased each other around for a minute or so, at which point my brain kicked in and I decided this wasn't a good idea at all, and out she came. We never saw them connect. However, 31 days later... 9 little otter colored wigglies came into the world. I decided to keep a pair and breed them and see what happened. I liked what I got, and have since bred the Tan doe to a Giant buck and did the same with a pair of her babies. So I have two lines of Otters going right now. Breeding German into them dilutes the color, so I selected the French buck mentioned above, Vinnie, to enrich the color without resorting to using another short-haired breed and losing so much wool quantity and quality. I like the results I got, but will be using Germans and/or Giants in the future to improve the wool.

I still would like to intensify the color more, but until recently did not have any really good options for that goal. I could breed more Tan into the lines, but would lose out in body type and wool. I have heard of people breeding red Germans and Giants, but so far have been unable to locate one. Then I found out another breeder is using a Thrianta buck to develop red English Angoras.

Thriantas are a European breed recently accepted into ARBA. Genetically, many of them are Tans with the non-extension gene. They are very solidly built, friendly little guys with a complete set of rufus modifiers.

A complete set? Yes. What I mean by this is a current theory on rufus held by many Europeans that is beginning to circulate here. Judy Le Marchant explained it to me over dinner one evening at the ARBA convention in Indy. Rufus is known to be cumulative, but there is more to it than that. Not only do you need a lot of rufus modifiers to get a really red rabbit, they also need to be in the right locations. Say the rufus locations are A, B, C, D, and E. You have rabbits that have rufus in A and B. You can breed your reddest rabbits together forever and not see improvement. If you bring in a rabbit that has rufus in C, D, and E, even if its color is not any better that your rabbits' color, you should see improvement in at least some of the offspring. If one of them gets a full set, that is rufus in all 5 locations, you should get a significant improvement in color. How do you know what locations your rabbits have rufus in? You don't, unfortunately. At this time I do not think there is any way to determine this other than outcrossing to another line or breed and seeing if that results in improvement.

There is a group in Europe that is studying Thrianta color and what genetic combo seems to produce the best color. Judy has graciously promised to keep me updated on its findings, and I will pass them along when I get them.

So breeding the reddest to the reddest may not be enough, outcrossing to another line or even another breed may be necessary to get a full set of rufus modifiers. Thriantas, Belgian Hares, and New Zealand Reds have complete sets of rufus, and have been used in other breeds to improve color very successfully. I like Thriantas because of the stout way they are built, their relatively tight skin compared to meat and pelt breeds like NZs, and their cheerful personalities. When my friend is finished with her Thrianta buck, she is willing to make him available to me. While it does mean a new generation of shorthairs, I will not lose the Tan pattern (assuming he is genetically a Tan), wideband, body type, or the nice, tight skin my current Otter Angoras possess. Well worth dealing with a dominant gene that is easy to breed out, IMO. I'll also have the occasional red pop up because of the non-extension gene, but I very much doubt I will have any problems finding homes for those babies!

So between using the Thrianta buck for color and Germans and Giants for size, temperament, and wool, I hope in a few years to have something worth getting a Certificate of Development for from ARBA. I hope that developing this color in Giants will spark more interest in this glorious breed and get more of them on the show table!

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Convention synopsis

Hi All!

Well, the largest ARBA Convention ever was exhausting, but informative and rewarding. For those of you know don't follow such stuff, the Best in Show over 25,000 other entries was none other than a tort English Angora doe! Owned by Linda Cassella of New York, I believe that this was the first time the doe was shown!

In the Skein and Garment contest, the British ruled, winning most of the classes. I was fortunate to meet up with Judy LeMarchant from England. Judy is a judge of rare breeds, and a genetics expert. She and I had a wonderful discussion regarding the genetics of the various incarnations of the color red. The Europeans have some interesting insights into how to breed for rufus. I'll get into that very soon, in the next post, in fact. Judy and others also seem to share my opinion of the whole Germn vs Giant controversy. More on that later, too. We also got into a spirited discussion of European vs American posing and body types. I walked out of that dinner with a whole lotta posting material, LOL! Judy promised to keep me updated on some research being done on Thriantas, the gorgeous little red breed recently accepted by ARBA.

I went with 6 rabbits and sold 4. My only disappointment was that I was the only person there who entered Junior Giant Angoras. So I won both my classes, but that doesn't say much. :( The judged liked both of the juniors I brought home very much, but he basically just confirmed what I already thought of them. The junior doe was one I bought just to show at Convention. You see, I messed up my entries and entered a rabbit I don't have, LOL! Now ARBA rules state that you can change ear numbers, but not classes. So since I entered a junior doe I don't have, I either had to find another or scratch. I was lucky to find two gorgeous german does at Jeannette Roberts' place, one I gave to a friend and the other I entered at Convention. She is one beautiful bunn, and she will stay on here. In the Spring, she'll be bred to Gruff.

One thing I will mention. I have debated with myself whether I would say anything. It has come to my attention from 2 sources that a certain person is making disparaging remarks to people about me and my rabbits. Specifically, this person criticises my knowledge of genetics and my breeding practices. Since this person has absolutely no knowledge of my records, I find this highly insulting. People who have bought rabbits from me can attest that I do provide full pedigrees with my rabbits and I hide nothing - even with crossbreds. Any time I hear a disparaging remark about another breeder, I always make a point of finding out where the person making the remark got their information. I advise you all to do the same. And that is all I'm going to say about it.

Have a great day!